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A Can't Do Government by Paul Krugman, NY Times Editorial

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  • mishmisha9
    Op-Ed Columnist A Can t-Do Government By PAUL KRUGMAN Published: September 2, 2005 Before 9/11 the Federal Emergency Management Agency listed the three most
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 2, 2005
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      Op-Ed Columnist
      A Can't-Do Government

      Published: September 2, 2005
      Before 9/11 the Federal Emergency Management Agency listed the three
      most likely catastrophic disasters facing America: a terrorist
      attack on New York, a major earthquake in San Francisco and a
      hurricane strike on New Orleans. "The New Orleans hurricane
      scenario," The Houston Chronicle wrote in December 2001, "may be the
      deadliest of all." It described a potential catastrophe very much
      like the one now happening.

      So why were New Orleans and the nation so unprepared? After 9/11,
      hard questions were deferred in the name of national unity, then
      buried under a thick coat of whitewash. This time, we need

      First question: Why have aid and security taken so long to arrive?
      Katrina hit five days ago - and it was already clear by last Friday
      that Katrina could do immense damage along the Gulf Coast. Yet the
      response you'd expect from an advanced country never happened.
      Thousands of Americans are dead or dying, not because they refused
      to evacuate, but because they were too poor or too sick to get out
      without help - and help wasn't provided. Many have yet to receive
      any help at all.

      There will and should be many questions about the response of state
      and local governments; in particular, couldn't they have done more
      to help the poor and sick escape? But the evidence points, above
      all, to a stunning lack of both preparation and urgency in the
      federal government's response.

      Even military resources in the right place weren't ordered into
      action. "On Wednesday," said an editorial in The Sun Herald in
      Biloxi, Miss., "reporters listening to horrific stories of death and
      survival at the Biloxi Junior High School shelter looked north
      across Irish Hill Road and saw Air Force personnel playing
      basketball and performing calisthenics. Playing basketball and
      performing calisthenics!"

      Maybe administration officials believed that the local National
      Guard could keep order and deliver relief. But many members of the
      National Guard and much of its equipment - including high-water
      vehicles - are in Iraq. "The National Guard needs that equipment
      back home to support the homeland security mission," a Louisiana
      Guard officer told reporters several weeks ago.

      Second question: Why wasn't more preventive action taken? After 2003
      the Army Corps of Engineers sharply slowed its flood-control work,
      including work on sinking levees. "The corps," an Editor and
      Publisher article says, citing a series of articles in The Times-
      Picayune in New Orleans, "never tried to hide the fact that the
      spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security -
      coming at the same time as federal tax cuts - was the reason for
      the strain."

      In 2002 the corps' chief resigned, reportedly under threat of being
      fired, after he criticized the administration's proposed cuts in the
      corps' budget, including flood-control spending.

      Third question: Did the Bush administration destroy FEMA's
      effectiveness? The administration has, by all accounts, treated the
      emergency management agency like an unwanted stepchild, leading to a
      mass exodus of experienced professionals.

      Last year James Lee Witt, who won bipartisan praise for his
      leadership of the agency during the Clinton years, said at a
      Congressional hearing: "I am extremely concerned that the ability of
      our nation to prepare for and respond to disasters has been sharply
      eroded. I hear from emergency managers, local and state leaders, and
      first responders nearly every day that the FEMA they knew and worked
      well with has now disappeared."

      I don't think this is a simple tale of incompetence. The reason the
      military wasn't rushed in to help along the Gulf Coast is, I
      believe, the same reason nothing was done to stop looting after the
      fall of Baghdad. Flood control was neglected for the same reason our
      troops in Iraq didn't get adequate armor.

      At a fundamental level, I'd argue, our current leaders just aren't
      serious about some of the essential functions of government. They
      like waging war, but they don't like providing security, rescuing
      those in need or spending on preventive measures. And they never,
      ever ask for shared sacrifice.

      Yesterday Mr. Bush made an utterly fantastic claim: that nobody
      expected the breach of the levees. In fact, there had been repeated
      warnings about exactly that risk.

      So America, once famous for its can-do attitude, now has a can't-do
      government that makes excuses instead of doing its job. And while it
      makes those excuses, Americans are dying.
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